Nepal’s hotel industry, badly hit by the Covid-19 pandemic, is trying to recuperate and is getting ready to welcome tourists with the arrival of the Gregorian New Year. In the previous years, a big mass of tourists entered Nepal from India and other countries to celebrate New Year, making December-January one of the busiest periods for Nepali tourism.
Nepali hoteliers have adopted elaborate physical distancing and other health protocols in the hope of attracting more tourists to New Year celebration events. Hotel entrepreneurs from Pokhara, Chitwan and Kathmandu have unveiled attractive packages targeting the New Year. The star hotels Soaltee, Hyatt, Yak & Yeti and Shangri-La in Kathmandu valley are all preparing for an increased number of guests. The recent closure of Hotel Annapurna—one of the oldest five stars in the country—highlighted the vulnerability of Nepal’s hotel industry.
“Until last year, the number of foreign tourists coming to Nepal to celebrate New Year was very high,” says Vinayak Shah, senior vice-president of the Hotel Association of Nepal (HAN). Shah informs that this year hotels plan on welcoming mostly domestic tourists, with international arrivals not expected in the immediate future. Hoteliers had made similar preparations for Christmas, but the returns were not satisfactory, Shah adds.
Despite the failure of Christmas to boost their businesses much, hotel entrepreneurs are still pumped up for New Year. They have introduced multiple discount packages to cater to all types of domestic tourists. Shah hopes people who have stayed at home all through the year will come out to celebrate—on the New Year day, and weeks thereafter.
Of late, the Gregorian New Year is celebrated like a festival in all major cities of Nepal. Families have made it a custom to go out to celebrate at hotels, restaurants and picnic spots. Hence New Year is considered a lucrative time for hotels and restaurants. So despite Covid-19 destroying most business opportunities this year, the New Year is still expected to bring some respite.
“The young generation no longer fears Covid. They have started going around and they have also added to the vibrancy of night life,” says Araniko Rajbhandari, president of the Restaurant and Bar Association Nepal (REBAN). Rajbhandari adds that the hotel and restaurant businesses have greatly benefitted from the withdrawal of odd/even vehicle rule. There is also more hope with almost all private and government offices coming back into operation. For restaurants, Christmas-time sales were satisfactory, Rajbhandari says, hoping the same is the case for New Year.
Rajbhandari also informs that entrepreneurs expect around 60 percent occupancy in the New Year. However, the Thamel area—the main tourist attraction in Kathmandu—remained quite deserted on Christmas Eve, making otherwise hopeful entrepreneurs a little skeptic. So REBAN has requested police administration to be more lenient to late night businesses with New Year celebrations in mind. On New Year Eve, most events and activities are conducted till late night or early next morning.